Diplomatic expulsions from Australia


In a joint statement on 7 April 2022, the Labor Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, and the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, called on the Morrison Government to act ‘in lockstep with European partners’ and expel Russian diplomats from Australia in response to ‘the reported atrocities’ and ‘sickening abuses’ by Russian forces in Ukraine. The Government’s consistent position has been that it is important to keep lines of communication open, but that the issue remains under review and expulsion remains an option. Outlined below are some recent past examples of diplomats from different countries who were expelled from Australia.

Governments expel diplomats under Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) and are not required to explain their reasons for doing so.

2018

On 27 March 2018, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that 2 Russian diplomats had been identified as undeclared intelligence officers and would be expelled from Australia within 7 days. This was in response to the nerve agent attack in the UK town of Salisbury, and part of a coordinated expulsion of Russian diplomats from Western countries around the world.

2012

On 29 May 2012 the Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, announced that the highest-ranking Syrian diplomat in Australia, Chargé d’Affaires Jawdat Ali, was being expelled in response to the massacre of more than 100 civilians in the Syrian village of Houla. Ali and one other Syrian diplomat were given 72 hours to leave Australia. There had been no Syrian ambassador to Australia since October 2010, making Ali the highest-ranking Syrian diplomat in Australia at the time. For more details, see the 2012 Parliamentary Library blog post, The Expulsion of Syrian Diplomats.

2010

In May 2010 an unnamed Israeli diplomat was expelled from Australia over the alleged misuse of Australian passports in the assassination of a Hamas operative in Dubai in January 2010. On 24 May 2010, the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, announced the expulsion in parliament:

After careful deliberation, the government has asked that a member of the Israeli Embassy in Canberra be withdrawn from Australia. I have asked that the withdrawal be effected within the week … The department made it clear that Australia regarded the abuse of these passports as inconsistent with the friendship and support provided by successive Australian governments to Israel since its creation as a nation … The government takes this step much more in sorrow than in anger or retaliation. It is a decision taken in our national security interests.

He later repeated some of these remarks at a press conference and took questions on the matter. The former foreign minister, Alexander Downer, labelled the expulsion ‘an overreaction’ that was designed to attract support for Australia’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

2009

It was reported on 4 November 2009 that the Fijian Prime Minister, Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, was expelling the Australian and New Zealand high commissioners to Fiji and that the Fijian high commissioner to Australia would be recalled with immediate effect, in response to claims that Australia and NZ were interfering with Fiji’s judicial independence and integrity.

The Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, explained on 4 November that the Australian Government had made the ‘regrettable’ decision to expel the acting Fijian high commissioner as a ‘proportionate response’ to the expulsion of the Australian high commissioner to Fiji. The acting high commissioner was given 24 hours to leave Australia.

The Australian media reported on 5 November that the Rudd Government had ‘responded’ to the expulsion of its high commissioner by expelling Fiji’s acting high commissioner to Australia. The expulsion of Fiji’s acting high commissioner was supported by the Opposition.

2003

In early March 2003, the Howard Government expelled Helal Ibrahim Aaref, an attache at Iraq’s embassy, giving him 5 days to leave. In response to questions on the matter, the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, stated that the Government had had ‘discussions with the Americans’ about the issue ‘over quite some period of time’, but emphasised that it was an ‘Australian decision’ and that ‘the US doesn’t instruct Australia’. He said that based on ASIO’s assessment, it was believed the attache was a member of the Iraqi intelligence service, and that at a time of heightened tensions with Iraq, it was ‘[no] longer appropriate to have a member of the Iraqi intelligence service in Australia’.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time:

Australia is the only country to have acted on a confidential Bush Administration request for the expulsion of 300 Iraqi diplomats worldwide on suspicion of spying. The White House had approached 60 countries last week, just days before the Howard Government ordered the expulsion of an Iraqi official. The United States made the request on the basis that the Iraqis named on a CIA list posed threats to Americans and US installations overseas, White House officials said yesterday.

While the Opposition was reported to have been satisfied the expulsion was justified, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, questioned why the attache had been given as long as 5 days to leave if he was deemed to be such a threat to Australia’s national security, accusing the Government of political opportunism. On 18 March 2003, all Iraqi staff at the Iraqi embassy were expelled from Australia, following the Howard Government’s decision to participate in coalition military action against Iraq.

1993

According to a 1994 article in the Canberra Times, 6 Russians were expelled from Australia in 1993 for spying.

1991

On 26 January 1991, the Australian Government expelled the Iraqi Chargé d’Affaires, Saad Omran, over unspecified security concerns. While not confirming the specific reasons for Omran’s expulsion, the Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, was reported to have said that Iraqi diplomats who made statements that could encourage terrorist attacks would be expelled from Australia.

1986

In June 1986 a South African diplomat was reportedly expelled from Australia for ‘clubbing’ an anti-apartheid protester who had entered the embassy’s grounds and begun smashing windows.

1983

In April 1983, the Australian Government expelled Soviet diplomat Valeriy Ivanov, claiming that he was a KGB agent who threatened national security. Ivanov held the position of First Secretary and was reported to have been the first Soviet diplomat to be expelled from Australia since 1963. The Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Peacock, issued a media release supporting the expulsion.

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